US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Opinions
USA v. Kelley
Opinion Date: July 8, 2022
Judge: Jennifer Walker Elrod
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
Defendant was convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(1). The jury instructions did not specify that the jury must find that Defendant knew he was a felon when he possessed a firearm. After Defendant’s conviction and sentencing, the Supreme Court decided in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), that knowledge of felony status is an essential element of that offense. The following year, Defendant filed a motion with the district court under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255, arguing that because of Rehaif the court should vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. The district court denied the motion, concluding that Rehaif did not establish a new right that applies retroactively as required for such collateral actions.
The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded. The court considered whether in Rehaif the Supreme Court newly recognized a right and whether that right has been made retroactive to cases on collateral review. The court concluded that the Supreme Court did indeed recognize a new right—the defendant’s right to have the Government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew of his felony status when he possessed a firearm.
Next, the court wrote, that rule applies retroactively. The Supreme Court has explained that “[n]ew substantive rules generally apply retroactively” to finalized convictions. Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348, 351 (2004). The court explained that remand is appropriate because the district court has not addressed procedural default or the merits of Defendant’s claim.
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